After finishing my ride from Hampshire to Nice the next three weeks were holiday but we were not sure where as the fuel shortage in France was looming large.
I had wanted to ride up Mt Ventoux again, this time from Bedoin so we decided to retrace our steps and depending on fuel we would have the option to divert to Italy or Spain.
We got to Bedoin at lunch time to find the camper van aire had been updated with an automated system and facilities that included, electricity wi-fi and a service point, the down side was that the price had risen fro €3 to €10 and we saw many people complaining and turning around at the entrance. It does make me smile that some of these motorhomes cost upward of £100k and they will not pay €10 to park with facilities but will pay €5 to sit on a gravel public car park in the middle of a town.
After setting up the van and lunch an afternoon walk into town revealed the extent to which the town trades on custom from those that want to cycle Ventoux and the surrounding area. With three cycle shops a couple of others just selling cycling kit and a museum the town has everything as well as plenty of bars for the post ride celebration.
Make no mistake it is not just Ventoux, the countryside is a fabulous area to cycle, wine, lavender and cherries all play a part in the local economy. A visit to the Tourist Information Office introduced us to La Provence A Velo, a series of 16 local rides from 6 to 90 kilometres and rated as easy, average and difficult, each with a route sheet of map and written instructions and each route marked at turns and junctions on the road with a distinctive sign.
The weather for Sunday was not looking good with rain and thunderstorms and the local bike shop gave a definite shake of the head when I suggested cycling up on Sunday so as I had no timetable I decided to leave Ventoux until Monday, with low cloud and a temperature near freezing at the summit I could afford to wait and so we decided to pay our €3 for a look around Expo Cycles Museum celebrating 100 years of bicycle history in the 20th century and cycling on Mount Ventoux,
The museum houses a collection put together by Lino Lazzerini over 50 years. We were fortunate to get a guided tour that lasted nearly 2 hours and Robert certainly knew his subject. There are many cycles from the early years of The Tour De France and France’s cycling heroes are well represented, if you are in the area it is well worth a visit.
Mondays weather was altogether better and I made an early start on the ride up Ventoux from Bedoin, I met two cyclists from Birmingham who were starting at same time so was able to ride up in company which was a nice distraction for the 8% gradient. At Chalet Reynard the gradient ramps up for the last 5km and the landscape becomes barren, the mountain was now in the cloud and the temperature was dropping. As I got to the summit my companions decided to head straight down as one of them was asthmatic and feeling the altitude and cold.
There were only a couple of other people up there at this time and an English lady kindly took some photos for me, she was waiting for her husband whom I had passed on the final climb, he had started out at 1am and was now on his third ascent, he was attempting to do six ascents in the day and four the following day by mountain bike up the trail route, chapeau Sir.
With photos and pleasantries complete I put on my arm warmers and rain jacket for the twenty-five minute fast descent to Bedoin, it was very cold but exhilarating and as well as a now constant stream of cyclists I saw a man running whom I had passed on the way up, now that really is ironman stuff.
For the next couple of days I enjoyed some day rides around the area with Kaye and discovered some lovely little villages, the two that stood out being Flassan and the beautifully named Crillon Le Brave.
We were also told that the village of Moulecene had a camping Aire and was worth a visit so with continued bad weather further north we decided to extend our stay a few more days in the area. Moulecene was also packed with Ventoux cyclists and with the breaking strain of a Kit-Kat I felt the need to bag this climb as well. The distance up the mountain is the same as from Bedoin, 21km and the gradient about the same average but from km 12 to 17 the average is between 11% and 12% and really tests you.
When I got to the top, again it was in cloud and this time I was amazed to find cameras and a guy in motorcycle leathers who was going to come down the mountain on a wheeled toboggan, surely a candidate for a Darwin award.
Once again after photographic proof it was on with the warm layers and back down to Moulecene and on the way down I was thinking I had done two routes so I only had Sault to go. After a ride around the village with Kaye we decided that the Aire at Bedoin was more to our liking so after driving back I decided that the following day I would cycle over to Sault and complete my third ascent. (There is a challenge to do all 3 ascents in a day, I am not in that league )
For my final ascent I was up early to cycle the 33km to Sault, the sky was gin clear and the temperature was a pleasant 15c when I left. I got to Sault at about 9-30 and joined another couple of starters for the ride. I find it easier to ride hills at my own pace and I was soon alone spinning at a comfortable level. The ascent from Sault is slightly easier as you are starting off higher but once you get to Chalet Reynard the gradient to the top is the same.
This time it was clear skies at the top and the temperature was a lot warmer and after formalities it was back down to Bedoin but this time I stopped at the Tommy Simpson memorial to pay my respects to a great British cyclist who died on the mountain in the 1967 Tour De France.
A personal achievement completed and I enjoyed another couple of days cycling around the villages with Kaye before the long drive back home.
Provence is a really great area for cycling, we will return, and did I mention the other delight of the area at this time of year, no, not the lavender but cherries, you will never taste better anywhere.